Tawana Brawley Hoax Anniversary Prompts Re-Look At Flashpoint Case

The “Tawana Brawley hoax” has earned a place in race relations legend, and, as the then teen is now being garnished hundreds of dollars a month due to the repercussions of the case, her name is back in the news.

Here in New York, where the Tawana Brawley hoax loomed large, the rape allegations in the late 80s that kicked off racial tensions remain firmly in the minds of locals. The Reverend Al Sharpton, now a host on MSNBC, is still to this day lambasted for his role in aiding Brawley — who was all of 15 at the time of the incident.

The Tawana Brawley hoax update today comes as payments made to Dutchess County Assistant District Attorney Steven Pagones, to whom she now owes more than $400,000 with interest from an original $185,000 judgment, are taken weekly from the nurse now working in Virginia.

As Pagones receives the money from Brawley after all these years, he says:

“Every week, she’ll think of me … And every week, she can think about how she has a way out — she can simply tell the truth.”

A lifelong New Yorker myself, I was too young when Tawana Brawley’s name became newsworthy to know what the case was about or to understand the gravity of the allegations. But as an adult myself now, looking back and at today’s update, the whole case still seems so off.

Did a girl not that much older than my son really mastermind the Tawana Brawley hoax so fully, dragging in so many adults and investigators for so long? And how can the actions of a 15-year-old child (the age Brawley was at the time of the incident) allow for a nearly half a million dollar judgment against her, even if false or partially false?

It seems so incredibly farfetched that a teenage girl like Tawana Brawley would invent a hoax so thorough, so convincing — and while the teen may have pegged the wrong men or been misled or advised badly, it still seems to stretch the bounds of credulity that the girl herself cobbled together the story from whole cloth.

Glenda Brawley said back in 2007 that she still believes the Tawana Brawley hoax involved a real, actual rape — stepdad Ralph King told the Post:

“I could be looking at the television any day and they say the ‘Tawana Brawley hoax.’ What hoax?”

Brawley said:

“How could we make this up and take down the state of New York? We’re just regular people… We should be millionaires.”

King added:

“They pulled her hair out by the roots and scribbled nasty things all over her… I carried her out of the hospital in my arms. She had no clothes on. We wrapped her in a sheet. The feces were still in her hair.”

Over on a blog discussing the Tawana Brawley hoax a few months back, one commenter pointed out something interesting about the outcome as well. If all it will take to make the judgment void is for Brawley to apologize (for actions while she was still a minor child), why has she not done so? The commenter muses:

“It intrigues me that Brawley could certainly have benefited by “selling *her* story to the tabloids, but has not. It intrigues me that a person who is the principal in a PI firm has not been able to find Brawley when news media has found her time and again. I am wondering why Brawley doesn’t just apologize if that’s all it’ll take to get rid of the judgment? She certainly does not appear to have used the situation to her benefit as Sharpton has.”

Earlier this year, Al Sharpton was asked about the case and told NPR he “believed” the teen’s allegations. And while the case is a common race debate point and eventually went so wrong, it should raise more questions about treatment of rape victims and potential child abuse cases so often fall through such large cracks.

Ultimately, the Tawana Brawley hoax narrative will exist regardless — people will remember “false rape,” and “race baiting,” and forget that for whatever actually did happen, a teenage girl (a young one at that) was very publicly called to account during a situation of great duress, and somehow managed to incur a near half a million dollar debt due to the ensuing confusion.

What do you think about the Tawana Brawley hoax 25 years later?